Sunday, May 17, 2015

Laws for first person shooters

I have compiled laws that every first person shooter should follow:
1. Give us access to all we see. If an area looks like it can be explored, let us explore it, even if it leads nowhere. Allow us to pick up items, break items that should be broken and combine items together to create interesting items that could help us in game. We have the technology to do this and if implemented, could give us power over our environment instead of handicapping us to the "looking but don't touch" policy that pervades in the gaming industry. In CS:GO, I laughed when I tossed a grenade into a flower garden and the flowers did not even move. I see that this is possible since Red Faction allows buildings to crumble, in Far Cry 2 foliage to burn, in Fracture make mountains break anything in Breach , break small things in Crysis 2 and pretty much throw anything in the Force Unleashed. Give us control over our environment. We have the technology and it's really fun to change things around!
2. Do not sacrifice interesting gameplay in exchange for amazing graphics. The ONLY thing amazing graphics give us is a pretty environment for 5 minutes then we acclimate to this, leaving us feeling manipulated. Excessive good graphics serve pretty much one goal: the sell more copies of a game. I think this is the number one reason multiplayer games fail to establish a player base. The company hypes the game by showing us visuals and when we hop into game, we become bored after we wow over the 1080p high detailed graphics where even a piece of paper as legible text on it (that has nothing to do with the story). If you want to see an excellent example of gameplay over graphics, look at Tribes 2 (now TribesNext online for free), Minecraft, Quake 1 (I still play that one!), unreal tournament 1999, Metroid Prime, Decent (on Steam), Subculture, just to name a few!
3. If the game has combat, give us movement in all dimensions. Whether they are grapple hooks, jet packs, rocket boots or wall climbing that give us limited (or full) flight, give us freedom in three dimensions. The WORST thing is to be in a game where you see large expansive rooms, caves and vistas and you cannot explore them. Heaven forbid level designers have to work a bit harder to give us this freedom of movement. Even if it's jumping, give us movement in all dimensions. First person shooters have moved beyond doom 3d. This leads me to the next terrible practice lazy game designers use...
4. Eliminate the use of invisible walls. Invisible walls is a lazy technique to give the illusion that a game company put more effort into a game than they did. If you want to limit the play space of a map, put up force fields, landslides and real walls. Heck, even a wall of corpses is better than running to the end of a road and somehow not being able to move one more step. In the past, technology prevented map designers to place detailed barriers due to the constraints of most user systems. We have more powerful systems now and the ONLY reason to do this is because you want to save money. Stop doing it. It easily shows how lazy you are when you do it.
5. Give us interesting tools, weapons, defenses and movement modes to implement power over our environment. The shotgun, pistol, rifle and automatic have been so overplayed it's a cliche. Use some imagination to create new weapons. For example, instead of a boring AK-47, implement a gun that shoots infrared seeking shards of crystal that can either shatter on impact or can explode later when other enemies get close to the impaled enemy. Another example: Instead of the boring pistol with infinite ammo,  have an energy weapon that can be charged up to deliver a slow moving burst of energy or many smaller blasts that can bounce off of walls. If the gun is used too much, have the user be heat damaged and/or the shots fired become more and more inaccurate. Even give the gun different modes for different enemies where the single shot mode is ineffective against hardened enemies but the charged up blast mode stuns them, allowing you to melee them with your energy blade. See? As a game designer, you have the privilege of implementing your creativity for the benefit of others. Throwing a gamer a shotgun and having him take out ineffective enemies is an insult to the player. Give us variety and ... wow us!
6. Give us balanced gameplay in single player, co-op and single player. Taking out 100 enemies with a pistol in 10 minutes without having my health fall below 95% is not only boring, it makes me feel cheated out of the time I spent playing your overly easy game. If your game is very very very story driven, eliminate combat altogether and make a book out of it.
7. Eliminate quick-time events. Again, lazy game design at it's finest. You are taking the freedom of movement away from the player and turn that player into a spectator in his own game. This is analogous to having characters in the  horrid Star Wars prequels, on couches, talking about things we should have been SHOWN. Let us show our skill in game instead of boiling down a situation to button mashing at the right time. If I want to play whack a mole, I'll go to an arcade. Again, it's lazy.
8. Alpha and Beta testing should be FREE. Games in Alpha should be against the law to be sold. Buying an Alpha game is like plopping down $1000 for your family portrait when he has only completed a few rudimentary sketches as he hands them to you on his way to a flight to another city. Beta testing should be free as the game is NOT DONE. Being a paid beta tester is akin to paying a contractor to pour cement for your driveway and
9. NEVER, EVER, EVER pre-order a game. EVER. 
Would you pay a waiter a tip on a meal you have not received yet?
Would you give $40 to a kid who promised he would come back tomorrow to do your lawn?
Would you give $20,000 to an individual for a car he advertised on Craigslist before you have seen it?
Would you give a company $60 before the beta has come out just because it sounds cool?
Yeah, you get the point.
There is NO REASON AT ALL to give a company ANY money before you receive a product or service.
10. Eliminate day one DLC. In fact, operate from the premise that your game is to be burnt onto millions of discs and you cannot go back and fix them once the product is sold. I can pop my Unreal Tournament 3 DVD in and after installing it, immediately get into exciting gameplay without having to "patch", check to see if my friends have the same version and other bullcrap I should not have to deal with for the $40-$60 I paid. 11. The free-to-play model should only be used by seasoned game designers. Free to play is an excellent way to see if the game aesthetics, gameplay and genre is right for you. However, just like a 10 year old with a credit card, almost all companies, with precious few exceptions, use this as an excuse to ruin game balance by giving players that spend more money a decisive advantage over those that spent less. A side effect of free to play models is that the company needs to make the game accessible to a wide demographic. This means that game skills that once took actual SKILL, has been dumbed down to make it so even n00bs can take out skilled players. One more downside to free to play games is the fact that they focus on good graphics and spend less, if little effort, on balanced and creative gameplay. Look at the debacle of Tribes Ascend. Essentially, the unprofessional amateurs at Hi-Rez bought an excellent
12. Eliminate regenerating health. Again, this touches on the laziness of level designers. Placement of health packs and health boost at strategic locations takes forethought and design skill. Eliminate this need to place health powerups and boosts and you have decreased your need to place them in placed the player would need them. The downside to having regenerating health turns all players into the mutant Wolverine. So, instead of fighting in a fair fight, all the coward has to do is run away from the more experienced player until you can heal up and come back and surprise your target when he least expects it. Remove this implemented bug from all multi-player games. It also removes any need to rely on other teammates to heal you directly or indirectly by them tossing you a health boost/heal. It's just plain lazy map design.
13. Eliminate automatic weapons in flight-centric mulitplayer if that games. It eliminates the need to fly and gives n00bs easy kills. Play Tribes Ascend for five minutes if you do not believe me. Everyone runs about in that game with completely out of place automatic weaponry in a science fiction environment. If you NEED to use automatic weapons, make them less accurate as you fire them, give them significant recoil and have them progressively overheat if used for excessively. A new player can always miss with the first 25% of his clip, but the 75% of the rounds that are left will find their mark without need for careful predictive aiming.
14. Give us the ability to skip cut scenes. Self explanatory.

I know I have been harsh on many points, but I think these points needed to be said.

My thoughts on Capcom's Lost Planet series.

I am going to talk about Capcom's title Lost Planet 3.
I believe they went backwards and here are the reasons why:
Capcom focused on visuals and large areas of beautiful set design in order to garner sales. Players would be led to believe that because of they way to designed Lost Planet 1, they could explore every square meter! They had visions of grappling large caverns, jumping over stalagmites and swinging from stalactites while slaughtering enemies with interesting and unique weapons.
Instead they were given invisible walls, designated grapple spots, generic weapons, predictable AI and bad voice acting (their lips did not sinc with their words).
Lost Planet 1 had limited map volume but at least every square meter of it could be grappled. The only problems I had is that the player could not jump AND grapple. I found this annoying and could have made gameplay 100% better. In Lost Planet 1, cover was not a key press used only in certain areas like in Lost Planet 3 nor did I have to find that *perfect* spot to place my grapple. In Lost Planet 1, I could grapple any surface - even enemies for additional damage! I think Capcom looked at Mass Effect 3, saw how much attention they were getting (meaning money) and copy/pasted their combat system without regard to innovation.
Mistakes that are made that erodes gameplay most game companies practice:
1. They give you no option for variable FOV and the option to use first person view.
2. They put invisible walls on maps, turning huge beautifully rendered areas into a museum with only limited pathways.
3. Give the player generic weapons that have no real bonuses or drawbacks in choosing one over the other.
4. Giving infinite ammo with no drawbacks.
5. Enemies that have the AI equivalent of Aliens/Colonial Marines. This is probably the second most insulting thing you can say about a game companies implement of AI next to Mind Hack (which is the WORST AI implementation in the history of gaming).If you have nothing to risk, you have nothing to feel good about gaining. Remember the Jedis in the prequels hacking apart the main enemies (droids) by the dozens? Yeah. No tension equates to no elation from victory. Make the AI smarter and more creative.